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Big Ten Football 2023: A Retrospective on the Jeff Brohm Era at Purdue

So long and thanks for all the wins

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

It’s entirely possible that I already wrote an article to this effect back in December of last year when Jeff Brohm left Purdue for Louisville. But I don’t remember doing so and since college basketball season had already started by then and I had better things to write about for Off Tackle Empire - your preeminent source of Big Ten basketball news - there is a decent chance I never actually did. Either way, before we spend the rest of the week digging into the upcoming 2023 Purdue football season and the future of the Boilermakers football program, let’s take a moment to look back and reflect upon the accomplishments of the Purdue Boilermakers football program the past six seasons.

When Jeff Brohm was hired by Purdue, the Boilermaker program was an an all-time low. Fan support was in the toilet with only the most dedicated boiler bots continuing to watch the games. The very existence of Purdue University was mocked via [404 File Not Found] references. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, Purdue had lost 4 straight football games to Indiana, tied for their longest losing streak ever to the Hoosiers.

In his six seasons Brohm changed the perception of the Purdue program from that of bottom feeder to another West division contender. By the end of his time in West Lafayette, Purdue had made four bowls and climbed the mountain top to win the B1G West division.

How did Jeff Brohm accomplish this?

2017 - A New Hope

Touchdown Boilermakers!
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were some pitfalls and missteps along the way, but Brohm instilled a passion for football into his players best summed up by his catch phrase and the celebration of concussions: “Let’s play football.” Fan support rebounded through smart marketing by the Purdue AD and the creative play calling that Brohm brought to the table.

In his first game at Purdue, the Boilermakers stayed competitive against Louisville and the following week Brohm began introducing Purdue fans to his trick plays. Against Ohio University, 45,633 fans (including yours truly) showed up: the highest attended Purdue home game since Virginia Tech early in the 2015 season and 2nd highest attended Purdue game since year 1 of the failed Hazell experiment when large contingents of Notre Dame, Nebraska, and THE Ohio State fans flocked to Ross-Ade that season. Brohm and the Boilermakers delighted the fans with flee flickers and rewarded us with a convincing 44-21 victory.

Additional wins against Missouri, fellow Big Ten newcomer PJ Fleck, Illinois, and grumpy old Kirk Ferentz would see Purdue at a 5-6 record heading into the 2017 Bucket game at home. The Boilermakers won 31-24 and the jubilant fans rushed the field in celebration. Many sought out Jeff Brohm to personally thank him for making the program competitive once again.

2018 - Upset Specials

Ohio State v Purdue

2018 would see Purdue build upon the 2017 exploits. The overall record did not improve - the Boilermakers went 6-6 against before losing their bowl game this time around - but they nabbed three victories against ranked opponents in Iowa, Boston College, and #2 THE Ohio State by 49-20. The talent was becoming better as well with stars like Rondale Moore making their name known.

2019 and 2020 - The Rebuild

2019 and 2020 would see Purdue take a step back on the field. The inevitable roster rebuild after Hazell had to be undertaken in 2019. Massive amounts of injuries among the few remaining upperclassmen forced many freshmen into playing before they were ready.

The following year saw COVID happen and irate Nebraska, Ohio State, and Iowa fans made that season happen alongside the desperate media partners. Coupled with a defensive coordinator mishap, the 2020 season was an exercise in futility for the Boilermakers.

2021 - Breakthrough

TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Purdue v Tennessee
Tennessee lost and there was much rejoicing
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

2021 saw Purdue win 9 games (including victories over #2 Iowa and #3 Michigan State and finish just one game out of the Big West lead) capping off the season with a thrilling offensive shootout victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Juniors David Bell and George Karlaftis shined while the depth was clearly improving. 2021 had set the table for 2022.

2022 - New Heights

Big Ten Championship - Purdue v Michigan
Big Ten Championship [game]!
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Purdue overcame a late October/early November swoon to right the ship and win the Big Ten West. Purdue fans reached the dizzying heights of Lucas Oil Stadium and experienced watching their Boilermakers in the Big Ten championship game. While that game didn’t turn out the way we would have liked, unlike the previous year’s Big West sacrifice this team showed fight before succumbing to the overpowering Michigan roster. And then Jeff Brohm left.


NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Purdue at Tennessee Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Brohm was not a perfect head coach. He delegated much of his recruiting to his assistants and was overly loyal to bad assistants and family members. There were flaws in how he ran a program, he didn’t seem to understand that the defense was something he needed to pay attention to, and he never beat Rutgers or wisconsin.

The way he left the program, the Citrus Bowl performance afterwards, and the poaching of several recruits as well as current Purdue players likely left a bad taste in the mouths of fans.

But Jeff Brohm reinvigorated the program and the fanbase. His offenses were incredibly fun to watch. He beat three teams ranked in the top 5, beat Indiana 4 out of 5 times, and won the Big Ten West division championship. For that, I tip my cap to him, sincerely thank him, and wish him luck in his future endeavors. As I take a look at Louisville’s 2023 schedule, I can even see myself rooting for his new team to go on a bit of a winning streak a few weeks into the 2023 season.